Anxiety Over Going Back to Normal After the Pandemic
Anxiety Over Going Back to Normal
Well, this is it folks. The vaccine is out and many of the restrictions that we have dealt with (for those of us in states that bothered to issue public health guidelines/regulations, that is) for the last 18 months are being lifted.
Nearly half of the U.S. population has at least their first dose of the vaccine and millions are eagerly awaiting a return to normalcy. However, the idea of going back to normal has left some people feeling on edge. There are a number of reasons why one might be anxious about going back to normal – social anxiety, returning to the dreaded morning commute, going back to in-person bullying at school, etc. If you’re one of the people who feel this way, you’re not alone. The pandemic, for all of the death, pain, and fear it has caused, did one good thing for us. It showed us that our society was not actually working as well as we had all been led to believe it was.
Even before the pandemic, some 40% of Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency expense (you know, like your car breaking down and needing repairs).
Tens of millions of Americans were either underinsured (health insurance covered some, but not all, expenses) or completely uninsured. Nearly half of Americans didn’t own any stock, while the richest 1% owned 50% of all stocks. Half a million Americans experienced homelessness on any given night. And yet, despite how dire the situation was then, it only got worse during the pandemic. Millions lost their jobs or saw their hours cut, soon-to-expire eviction moratoriums are the only thing preventing a huge spike in homelessness, small businesses across the country shuttered their doors, and yet the richest among us continued to prosper as if the pandemic wasn’t even happening.
The pandemic exposed this glaring poverty and inequality to more Americans than ever before.
People truly began to question long-held beliefs about America, social safety nets, and even capitalism itself. We should absolutely be anxious about simply returning to normal. The old normal sucked for pretty much everyone who wasn’t rich (which is most of us). That’s not to say that there were no bright spots, but the old way of doing things needed a major overhaul.
The pandemic, through the economic policies that our government implanted to help people get through it (eviction moratoriums, direct cash payments, expanding the unemployment system, etc.), showed us that it was possible to have a government that took care of those in need.
It showed that grueling commutes and spending 40 hours a week in an office were unnecessary burdens placed on people for arbitrary reasons (tradition, I guess?). We learned that it was the frontline workers, not the executives, who were “essential” to the continued functioning of society. We also learned that those frontline workers are exploited by those executives – working for far less money than they needed to meet their costs of living. We haven’t fixed all of these problems yet, and the wealthy have fought hard to keep the status quo in place. The end of the pandemic may spell the end of people caring about these problems and calling for change.
So, we’ve established that there are a host of reasons to be anxious about returning to normal.
From social anxiety to economic anxiety to just being burnt out by the thought of returning to a demanding commute/job/etc., this fear is real and valid. But what can we do about it? Well, there are two ways to look at that question. The first is on a personal level – what can we each do personally to lessen our anxiety.
This, of course, depends on the reason for each individual’s anxiety, but the answer will generally be the same for most people. We’ve talked about this before, so I’ll keep this brief. First, start to ease yourself back into a routine. If you’ve been working/schooling from home or have been unemployed for most or all of the pandemic, you may dread the thought of getting back into the full swing of work/school. If you’re lucky, your job may stay remote (after all, why should a company spend money leasing an office and paying utilities when their employees can just as effectively work from home?), but that won’t be the case for everyone. Creating your own daily routine can help prepare you for the switch back to in-person school and office work.
Meditation is another great way to help deal with the stress around going back to normal.
If you’re new to meditation, start with a guided session (there are plenty online) before doing it yourself. In addition to meditation, getting regular exercise and eating healthy foods will help cut down on your anxiety. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is get a good night’s sleep every night. That can be difficult when you’re feeling stressed and sleeping pills aren’t always the best solution. Fortunately, there is a wide range of products to help decrease stress –weighted blankets, puzzles, coloring books, video games, Epsom salts, and more. Find the product that works best for you and get that sleep that your body needs to beat your anxiety.
The other way to look at my earlier question is on a societal level: what can we do to stop society from backsliding into the way things were before the pandemic?
Well, that question isn’t as easy to answer. There are a lot of rich, powerful interests out there trying to keep the status quo in place. No single person has the power to fight against those special interests, but we do have the numbers on our side. We refer to the uber-wealthy as the “1%” because they really are the smallest percentage of people. Their interests, in most cases, go directly against the interests of the 99%, yet the 1% keep getting their way. It is time for us to come together as a nation to say “no more” to the wealthy and the corporations. This won’t be easy or quick, but it must be done.
So, if you want to get involved in changing this place for the better, start local. Volunteer with a political campaign (regardless of party affiliation) if the candidate is proposing solutions that you think will work.
Get involved with nonprofit organizations in your community. Protest injustice. Call your local/state/federal elected representatives and demand that they better represent you if they want your vote.
Like I said before, there are a lot of real, valid reasons to be anxious about going back to normal after the pandemic has ended. Do what you have to do to take care of yourself first (join a yoga class, meditate, buy a weighted blanket – whatever it takes to feel better), and then get involved in your community. This pandemic has presented an incredible opportunity to change the very idea of what “normal” is, but we have a limited amount of time to seize the opportunity before it's gone.
Written by: Clayton Davis